Jewish Telegraph, July 2020
EXCLUSIVE BY SIMON YAFFE AND MIKE COHEN
THE woman who inspired Fleetwood Mac’s first hit has told how Peter Green’s parents embraced her — despite the fact she was not Jewish.
Green, the band’s founder, died on Saturday at the age of 73.
Black Magic Women, which was released in 1968, was written by Green — considered by many to be one of the greatest-ever blues guitarists — about his former girlfriend, Sandra Vigon, then known as Sandra Elsdon.
She told the Jewish Telegraph from her home in Santa Barbara, California: “Peter was an East London Jewish boy and I was a middle-class WASP, but those things never mattered.
“His lovely parents, Ann and Joel, embraced me and my parents loved Peter, too.”
Despite his upbringing, Green — who was born Peter Greenbaum — often deserted his Jewish faith.
The guitarist had tried Christianity and Buddhism at various times but, according to Sandra, “the blues for him were Jewish blues”.
She said: “Peter was badly bullied as a child and discriminated against because he was Jewish.
“I remember him crying when he spoke about those times, so those were Peter’s blues. The blues for him were Jewish blues.”
Sandra, who also dated Eric Clapton, and Peter were a couple from 1967 until 1971.
They had met at a club called the Cromwellian, where many of London’s music scene would hang out.
“This new guitarist came on the scene and the buzz went out,” said Sandra, who spent time with Green in a Welsh Buddhist monastery. “We got talking and we hooked up.
“Peter was never comfortable being a rock star — he never wanted to be centre stage even when he was on stage.
“He didn’t want the band to be called Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac.
“He was quiet and a had a great sense of humour, and we laughed a lot.
“Peter was a very kind, soulful and sweet person, and I never heard anyone say anything bad about him.”
Green, whose nickname for Sandra was “Magic Mamma”, also wrote the songs Sandy Mary and Long Grey Mare about her.
Green was taught his first guitar chords by his brother Michael at the age of 10 and began playing professionally at 15, while working for a number of East London shipping companies.
He was barely out of his teens when he got his first big break in 1966, replacing Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers — initially for just a week in 1965 after Clapton abruptly took off for a Greek holiday.
He quit for good soon after and Green was in.
In the Bluesbreakers he was reunited with drummer Mick Fleetwood, a former colleague in Peter B’s Looners.
Mayall added bass player John McVie soon after.
The three left the next year, forming the core of the band initially billed as ‘Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac featuring (guitarist) Jeremy Spencer’.
Fleetwood Mac made their debut at the British Blues and Jazz festival in 1967, which led to a recording contract, and then an eponymous first album in February, 1968.
However, as the band flourished, Green became increasingly erratic and drugs played a part in his unravelling.
On a tour in California, he became acquainted with Augustus Owsley Stanley III, a notorious supplier of powerful LSD to the The Grateful Dead.
Sandra recalled: “After that American tour, he came back dropping acid.
“Peter was someone who should never have got involved with that cause, as well as being a sensitive soul, there was clearly a latent mental illness there. The acid completely ruined him.
“We all began to notice how different he was and he famously announced that he wanted to give all his money away.
“I remember being with him at his mum and dad’s house and there were sacks full of begging letters to him.”
According to Fleetwood, the song Trying So Hard to Forget, on 1968’s second album Mr Wonderful, was “Peter Greenbaum baring his soul about growing up in Whitechapel, London’s Jewish ghetto.
“For almost the first time I could feel the pain, hurt and sense of loss that Peter was expressing through the solace of the blues.”
Green’s last studio album with the group was Then Play On in 1969.
Journalist Johnny Black wrote in Mojo in 1997: “One night, after a show, he told Fleetwood, ‘I want to find out about God. I want to believe that a person’s role in life is to do good for other people, and what we’re doing now just isn’t s***’.”
When Fleetwood Mac started their American tour for the album, Green “had renounced his Jewish faith in favour of a mixture of Christianity and Buddhism, and was wearing white monk’s robes on stage with a huge crucifix dangling at his neck,” Black continued.
Black also wrote that Green had been “a sensitive child in whom music had always inspired powerful emotions”.
He said: “He would burst into tears when he heard the theme from Disney’s Bambi because he couldn’t bear to remember the suffering of the baby deer.”
Green left Fleetwood Mac for good in 1971.
Green Manalishi, Green’s last single for the band, reflected his distress.
In an interview with with Mojo magazine, he said: “I was dreaming I was dead and I couldn’t move, so I fought my way back into my body.
“I woke up and looked around. It was very dark and I found myself writing a song.
“It was about money; The Green Manalishi is money.”
“He was taking a lot of acid and mescaline around the same time his illness began manifesting itself more and more,” Fleetwood said in 2015.
“We were oblivious as to what schizophrenia was back in those days, but we knew something was amiss.”
In his absence, the band’s new line-up, including Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, gained enormous success with a more pop-tinged sound.
Nicks said: “My biggest regret is that I never got to share the stage with him.
“I always hoped in my heart of hearts that that would happen.
“When I first listened to all the Fleetwood Mac records, I was very taken with his guitar playing.
“It was one of the reasons I was excited to join the band.”
In 1972, Green moved to Israel and lived on Kibbutz Mishmarot, near Tel Aviv, telling his girlfriend of the time only that “he wanted to be near his people”.
But he was back in England a year later.
Green then fell in love with Jewish-born Californian fiddle player Jane Samuels, who was a born-again Christian.
She converted Green and they married in Bel Air on January 4, 1978 and had a daughter, Rosebud.
Green also has a son, Liam Firlej.
A year later, after divorcing Samuels, Green recorded his second solo album In The Skies, which featured the religion-tinged track The Apostle.
Green had returned to being Jewish and reverted to using his real name, Greenbaum.
He also spoke about forming an all–Jewish band to play Jewish music.
“Sometimes it means a bloody hell of a lot and sometimes we wish we were something else,” he told one interviewer.
“I’m glad I’m Jewish. It feels like a nice medium between the ordination and whatever that might mean to everyone. I love being Jewish. I think it’s a good obedience test. I fail dismally.”
Green was confined in a mental hospital in 1977 after an incident with his manager.
Testimony in court said he had asked for money and then threatened to shoot out the windows of the manager’s office.
Fleetwood said Green deserved the lion’s share of the credit for Fleetwood Mac’s success.
He said in 2017: “Peter was asked why did he call the band Fleetwood Mac.
“He said, ‘Well, you know I thought maybe I’d move on at some point and I wanted Mick and John McVie to have a band’. End of story, explaining how generous he was.”
In the 1990s, he formed the Peter Green Splinter Group, which released nine albums from 1997 to 2004 when a tour was cancelled and the recording of a new studio album stopped as Green left the band and moved to Sweden.
In 1998, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with past and present members of Fleetwood Mac and, in 2009, he was the subject of BBC Four documentary, Peter Green: Man of the World.
Earlier this year, an all-star tribute concert was performed at the London Palladium, which was billed as Mick Fleetwood and Friends: Tribute to Peter Green.
However, Guitar World magazine said that Green was not in attendance.
Fleetwood called Green his “dearest friend” just hours after his death was announced.
He said the two of them “trail blazed one hell of a musical road for so many to enjoy” when they formed the band.
“No one has ever stepped into the ranks of Fleetwood Mac without a reverence for Peter Green and his talent, and to the fact that music should shine bright and always be delivered with uncompromising passion,” Fleetwood said.
“Peter, I will miss you, but rest easy your music lives on. I thank you for asking me to be your drummer all those years ago.
Other rock stars paid online tributes, including Kiss frontman Paul Stanley, who tweeted: “RIP Peter Green. One of the absolute hierarchy of the original British Blues Greats. Clapton, Page, Beck and Green.”
Sandra said she was inundated with telephone calls and emails when news of Green’s death broke.
“I was fortunate enough to be around him in his good and healthy years, before the tragic mental illness took over his life,” she explained.
“It is very sad — Peter was the love of my life at the time and we had a very special relationship. He was a lovely person.”
Sandra last saw Green at a Fleetwood Mac concert in London five years ago.
“Peter came backstage, but he looked at me like he didn’t even know me,” she said.